How we can help our teens during lockdown and when we get out
Combining her accomplishments as a teacher, coach, therapist, mentor, sacred space holder and her admiration for women everywhere, Niki Moss Simpson launched Shine. Sparkle. Radiate in 2017. In 2019 Niki became an international bestseller as co-author of the Pay It Forward Series: Notes to My Younger Self and completed her 300-hour restorative yoga teacher training in India. In an exclusive article for MumAbroad Life, Niki talks about teens during lockdown.
Teens and Lockdown
“Some parents will be secretly delighted that this natural drive to escape has been curtailed and they are back in the nest, particularly at a time like this when everyone is feeling anxious. But the nest is the last place that most teenagers are likely to want to be.” (Extract from We Need to Talk About Children’s Mental Health by Dr Liz Gregory, Consultant Clinical Psychologist.)
Yep, you see the whole purpose of the adolescent years, whether we parents like it or not, is to get away from us and test the waters. The fact that these waters are often murky and dangerous is irrelevant. Our teens want to swim in them and discover and stretch and explore.
I’m talking about these lock-down, quarantine, #stayathome times we find ourselves in wherever we are in the world in 2020 and wondering how we can support our teens through this unprecedented experience and prepare them for life “on the other side”.
We, ourselves, never lived this as adolescents. Our grandparents experienced a worldwide situation during the world war two years so if they were teens then, perhaps they can identify with some of what this generation of teens is dealing with. But we can’t. We had the freedom to discover, stretch and explore within the limits of our parents’ household rules of course, and that will look different for each of us.
I’m guessing we were never locked up for weeks at a time with our parents and if we have any, siblings?
Like much of parenting, we were not prepared in advance for this. It dropped on us from out of the blue as governments around the world responded to the threat of Covid-19 and put in place national measures to flatten the curve and control the spread of the virus. Our teens were locked up at home with us and seem to be, in many countries, the most resilient to the virus and yet the most deadly as silent carriers. They also seem to be the most disadvantaged in terms of measures governments are planning in the aftermath as younger children are released to be able to go supermarket shopping with a parent (perish the thought) or to be able to walk, keeping the social distancing in place and to not spend more than a designated number of minutes in close proximity to anyone.
Generally speaking, teens love close contact with each other. Hugging is important and so is sexual and romantic experimenting. Yet here they are, at home, spending hours on their laptops doing school lessons in virtual classrooms. Their screen time used to be, a dim and distant few weeks ago, their social connection when at home and not out with their mates. It used to be their escape from school (think gaming or social media).
How must that feel dear parents?
Their escape is now their mundane daily reality.
My son is 15. He loves gaming with his friends. It relaxes him though, naturally, as his mum, I don’t see how pretending to drive a fast on-screen car around streets, is relaxing but I try to get it. I can hear him talking to his friends and they are all happy. Hearing them happy makes me happy. But now he also has eight hours of online classes a day instead of socialising in the classroom, flirting on school campus and joking, laughing, jostling and exploring being a teenager after school and at weekends. His IGCSE exams have been cancelled. So has his motivation to study. He can’t get his favourite Thai take out, go mountain biking with friends he’s known since he was four or even celebrate his forthcoming sixteenth birthday and be officially welcomed into the “I can legally drink beer” club. (In Switzerland where he is at school and where I am currently stuck, the legal age limit for drinking wine and beer is sixteen.)
I would rebel in their shoes, wouldn’t you?
This was a rather long-winded introduction to what I actually intend to explore and that is how we can support them now and when it’s over or as my kids call it “on the other side”.
So here are my ideas;
Prioritise everyones’ mental health
Although they probably won’t be able to express it, we are experiencing a lot of grief and loss and teens are feeling it too. What helps is routines, fresh air and sunshine for vitamin D, exercise, social media and screen time breaks, healthy nutrition and your supportive presence. Teens are often resistant to all of these things so they’re witnessing the rest of the family prioritising them is important to help them develop unconscious healthy practices. Insist on realistic wake-up and bedtimes. Get them out on balconies or terraces or in gardens or just the sunshine coming in through open windows whenever you can. If you are able to walk a family dog or take rubbish to a bin, get them to do it when you can.
It could be the time to teach them to cook and get them to help more in the kitchen so they develop a good relationship with food. Create family exercise schedules to include stretching as well as cardio exercise and use whatever you have at home to support this; I have been using tins of kidney beans and chickpeas as makeshift weights with my son and daughter. Use Youtube videos and channels to follow free online classes and use this time to develop a new practice that you can then model to your teens. I have been going LIVE on my Facebook page (Shinesparkleradiate) with 10-15 minute easy to do yoga sessions and my kids have even been joining in (she rolls her eyes in shock). Agree on slots of time when no one, yes, no one uses their screens at all. No work, no news update absorbing, no social media scrolling, no brain expanding learning and no heart connection socialising. All these things are great but time away to daydream, nap, chat, eat and relax is much needed every day too.
Validate their feelings
They should be spending time away from home to grow and develop emotionally, psychologically as well as physically but instead they are safe (and stuck) at home. For the majority, not all, this sucks. They will express this in whatever way their developing adolescent brain sees fit. It could be anger and rage. It could be sadness and riding the emotional roller coaster. It could be shutting down and becoming uncommunicative. It could be rebelling and revolting and refusing to cooperate. Whatever it is, let them know that it is OK to express their feelings. Make your home a safe place to express feelings. Perhaps have an agreed time when everyone can do this together (I’m actually now visualising the after-meal conversations in the book or film, The Giver about a dystopian society in the future…ohhh help) or just let everyone know that sharing is healthier than bottling up and do lead by example by expressing your feelings openly so you can be a role model and teacher.
Encourage virtual socialising
This is not to contradict my first idea for supporting our teens at this time, but screen time with friends is absolutely vital. Not only does it maintain friendships and connection but eye to eye contact, even through a screen, helps release happy hormones into the bloodstream, strengthening the immune system and inhibiting the stress responses in the body. Encourage them to make plans to “meet up” online with either a friend or a group of friends in a conference platform like Houseparty or Zoom. Then give them their privacy. Respect closed bedroom doors and their time with their friends. They will appreciate this and in turn, respect yours. Anyway, if you have ever overheard their conversations, they make little sense to us!
Acknowledge how hard this is for them
It is hard for all of us and even if we are secretly delighted that our teens are safe at home with us, every hormone in their body is screaming at them “release me”. They know the reasons for this lockdown and they accept it (mainly) but they want out. They want their freedom. They want to make their own choices and decisions. They want their dramatic and challenging friendships, peer relationships and connections. They want their secretive world outside the home. Be compassionate and kind. Let them have a duvet day or meuhhhh (one of my son’s fave words) day. In fact, allow yourself to have them too. We can’t keep up the momentum and the constant positivizing everything without the breakdowns and the “off” days. It’s just plain exhausting. Above all, keep listening and remain open.
So how will we deal with life after this? How will we support our teens’ transition back “out there”?
I think it is going to be really tough for us when they first go out again. We have become so used to them being safe in the family nest that naturally, we are going to be worried when they go out. If we can prepare them with our expectations of them in advance it should ease the pain for us all.
Start talking about it now
The longer we have to prepare them the better. The lockdown was pretty brutal for many of us and we were not prepared, so let’s try to make this transition as gentle as possible. Ask questions like, What will you do when you have your freedom to go outside again? Listen to their response and help guide them to consider all aspects. If it is something along the lines of “meet my friends” how would you like this to look? Social distancing? The wearing of masks? No hugging or physical contact? A time limit? Discuss and agree on every aspect you feel is important and keep repeating it.
Ok so you think you have it all agreed and sorted. Yet, the sudden freedom and escape from adult observation could be way too tempting for some (all) of our kids. I can imagine a desire to celebrate their great escape. I can picture booze, making out and mess. I’m sure you can too (or perhaps remember it). All we can do is prepare them as best we can with the rules of play we want them to adopt but when the reality hits, we can’t control it. We can be there to pick up the pieces afterwards and we can be available to support them.
Organise small group events
Chances are they will want to party so why not help them organise that so you can help set the boundaries and instil some limits. Talk to the parents of their friends and get some dates in the diary, even if they are provisional. Get some themes going, plan the food or games or activities and get them excited about it and very involved. It is an opportunity to let them know you trust them and care about their friends.
Yes, they are infuriating and they know how to trigger us. It takes oodles of patience to raise them but what a satisfying job it really is. Somehow they come out of the other side of adolescence good people. You can equate this now to coming out on the other side of lockdown. They will push your buttons as they rediscover their role as teens in the first days post-apocalypse and you will, no doubt, be equally sad and concerned and relieved and thrilled. Don’t expect it to be easy for us so adopt patience with them and with yourself. We all got into this together so let’s focus on getting out of it with grace and patience.
Wishing you all the very best and as always, I would love you to share your experience and thoughts with me. Please do contact me and keep on shining. If you need support, get in touch too.
Read more from Niki on MumAbroad Life